LONDON – The once hidebound royal family seems to have caught up with Britain’s tolerant public in the three decades that separated Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana Spencer from the wedding of their firstborn.
Few people – royal or otherwise – seem bothered by the fact that Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton, have been living together off and on during the course of their eight-year romance.
That’s a marked turnaround from the days preceding Charles and Diana’s 1981 marriage. At that time, there was a general expectation that Diana would not have dated before her engagement to the heir to the throne, and her own uncle came out publicly to declare her a “bona fide” virgin.
The more modern approach gives many royal watchers hope that William, 28, and Middleton, 29, will fare better in their marriage than Charles and Diana, whose marital breakdown tarnished the image of the royal family.
Some historians say it’s about time the royals shed their prudishness about the past of new entries into their family.
Deborah Cohen, a historian at Northwestern University in Chicago who specializes in modern Britain, says the failure of Charles and Diana’s marriage apparently convinced the royal family that its rigid standards were backfiring.
Practical concerns, more than squeamishness about sex, were behind the royal family’s historic concerns over the sexual status of a bride joining the royal family, Cohen said, because there were fears that a princess carrying another man’s child could bring an illegitimate heir to the throne. This was more important before paternity testing.